Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A long road ahead for Yemen

By Hossein Sabah Zanganeh

The events that played out over the past few days in Yemen were the manifestations of a secret agreement between the United States and some regional governments that finally resulted in the removal of the president.

Ali Abdullah Saleh’s reluctance to step down in recent months was creating many problems for countries like Saudi Arabia, and thus removing him was the best option for Riyadh, since it would allow the Saudis to gain more support for their plans in the region.

However, Yemen is still entangled in many internal conflicts between various tribes, especially the tribes that formerly supported Saleh but have now turned against him. There is a high probability that a civil war will break out as a result of the machinations of internal and external elements.

But Yemen’s sectarian and tribal conflicts can be eliminated by empowering everyone in the new political structure. If all Yemen’s diverse groups and tribes are empowered, Yemeni society will experience peace and tranquility.

Unfortunately, the prospects for such an outcome are not bright, and Saudi Arabia is continuing to interfere in the country’s internal affairs.

The general theory about tribal Yemen is that if there is a conflict over the central government, clashes in the border areas decrease and the battle moves to the capital and the major cities. But if the country’s diverse groups and parties can reach an agreement on a clear plan of cooperation and coordination, they can guarantee their regional and tribal interests, and the conflict and tension will move back to the border areas, leaving Sanaa and the other major cities calm.

Along those lines, Saudi officials thought that they would be able to control the situation if they could take Saleh out of Yemen. Thus, they devised a scenario in which Saleh was injured and transferred to Saudi Arabia, supposedly to receive medical treatment. The Saudis tried to lay the groundwork for a situation in which a consensus could be reached among Yemeni groups based on the proposals of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council. However, this plan is not completely consistent with the current reality in Yemen.

In fact, the main crisis in Yemen cannot be resolved by simply removing Saleh, and there is a long way to go before a long-term solution acceptable to all political parties can be reached. Moreover, there are many other unresolved issues, which clearly increase the possibility of U.S. interference in the near future. Issues such as the demarcation of the Saudi-Yemen border or the security of shipping lanes of the region could be used as pretexts for U.S. intervention in Yemen in the future.

There is also the possibility that Al-Qaeda will step up its operations in the country in response to the perceived U.S. interference.

All this shows how complex the situation is.

Many political analysts believe that Yemen’s tribal disputes can only be resolved through the establishment of an inclusive political system that would bring in all the parties, groups, tribes, and nomads of the nation from the south to north of the country.

It will not be an easy task. But if the Yemenis can pull it off, all the diverse groups of the country will have a bright future as a united nation.

Hossein Sabah Zanganeh is an international relations expert based in Tehran.

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